Smoke from recent forest fires has recently settled into the Rogue Valley like an unwanted guest that refuses to leave. So it seems like a good time to discuss the potential hazards to you and your animals from exposure to air pollutants from nearby forest fires, and what you can do about it.
Obviously, the most logical thing to do when the skies are hazy and the smell of burning trees assaults your nostrils is to limit you and your pets’ exposure by staying indoors in an air conditioned environment. Not everyone has air conditioning, however, and some pets and most farm animals live outdoors. And while people with asthma, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory diseases can wear a face mask to decrease their exposure to air irritants, good luck trying to get your cat to wear one. Also, it would seem obvious that it wouldn’t be a good idea going for long walks with your pets or doing any intense exercise when the air quality is poor. So other than loading up the kids and dogs in the SUV and heading to the coast (not a bad idea), what, if anything can be done to decrease the adverse effects of the smoke on us and the animals in our care?
Studies have shown that inhalation of wood smoke in significant concentrations causes oxidative stress to the cells lining the airways of the lungs*. In this process, irritants and toxins cause the generation of free radicals which wreak havoc on the sensitive tissues that are so important to normal respiration. The resulting inflammation and altered respiratory functions can cause coughing and difficulty breathing, especially in people and animals with underlying lung diseases, and in some severe cases, permanent damage can be done to the lungs.
One simple, effective, and inexpensive way to combat the oxidative stress resulting from smoke inhalation is with good ole vitamin C. Vitamin C is a potent, and very safe anti-oxidant, which is easy to take or administer to most all animals. A small dog or cat could take up to 250 mg of Vic C twice a day, and a large dog up to 1,500mg twice a day. Adult horses can take up to 20g a day. Some individuals may experience some digestive upset or loose stools at higher doses. If so, cut back on the dose. Some animals that reject the sour taste of Vit C will readily accept buffered Vit C (Calcium or sodium ascorbate) mixed in their food.
* Danielsen PH, Loft S, Jacobsen NR, Jensen KA, Autrup H, Ravanat JL, Wallin H, Moller P:Oxidative stress, inflammation, and DNA damage in rats after intratracheal instillation or oral exposure to ambient air and wood smoke particulate matter.
Toxicol Sci 2010, 118:574-585.